11 August 2021, Thimphu: The Royal Government of Bhutan and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) signed a USD 4.854 million project titled “Mainstreaming biodiversity conservation into the tourism sector in Bhutan” funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF). The project will be implemented by Tourism Council of Bhutan as part of Tourism Flagship Programme in the 12th Five-year Plan.
The project seeks to mainstream biodiversity conservation into tourism development and aims to establish Bhutan as a model ecotourism destination. It is a long-term strategy to mitigate threats to biodiversity, while also generating sustainable conservation financing and livelihoods for people within and outside protected areas and facilitating human-wildlife coexistence.
While Bhutan has managed the COVID-19 pandemic well, averting a severe public health crisis, the country faces serious shocks in key economic sectors such as tourism. The project’s design considers opportunities for contributing to green recovery from the impacts of the pandemic, including boosting of domestic tourism, employment opportunities, and increasing community resilience and connection to nature.
The project will be implemented over a five-year period covering two protected areas (PAs) of Bumdeling Wildlife Sanctuary (BWS) and Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary (SWS) and five eastern districts of Lhuentse, Mongar, Trashigang, Trashi Yangtse and Zhemgang. Given the astounding biodiversity and prevalence of high Human-Wildlife Conflict incidences in these areas, ecotourism will be used as a tool for long-term conservation gains through the management of co-benefits and trade-offs.
The project will also address barriers to establishing ecotourism through enabling national policy environment and institutional coordination, sustainable financing, innovation, and diversification of ecotourism products. It will also integrate ecotourism value chains and best practices into local community engagement, knowledge and capacity.
At the signing, Gross National Happiness Commission Secretary, Thinley Namgyel thanked TCB, UNDP and the Global Environment Facility (GEF) for the support and cooperation in realizing the project despite the pandemic and the climate crisis.